Gilda Goes to the Desert — Part 1

Gilda in JT

Venus and Jupiter were visible and conjunct in the morning sky when I opened my email to find the first rejection my of new round of pitches for my work “Connection — 48 Natural Contemplations.” Astrologers say this conjunction is a good thing and a good time to dive into creative work. Maybe that’s why the lightning-fast rejection didn’t phase me. And — more importantly — I’d be on the road within the next hour with Gilda pointing east toward the desert for a mini campout in Joshua Tree National Park.

Prepping Gilda for a road trip excites me. I love checking off the list of things to pack:

Facial cleaners
Toilet paper
Campfire starters
Hiking boots

I itched to leave the day before while packing her up. But no could do. Be patient, Grasshopper. A busy season of conniving my skills to help raise much needed funds for a wildlife rescue center, just concluded and a romp through nature cajoled my soul. So I pushed the departure before 6:30 a.m. to make the six-hour drive in plenty time to savor desert solitude.

With Spouse at the helm, we crossed the west end of the Mojave Desert — a V-shaped piece of geography called the Antelope Valley — the place where I lived for most of my younger life.

On March 12, 1951, “Dennis the Menace” appeared in newspapers for the first time; Life magazine featured Paul Douglas on the cover, the communists were marched out of Seoul; Perry Como’s “If” was number one on the pop charts, and my mother, Jean Haley died at age 32 in a Los Angeles hospital.

The above is fact.  The next paragraph may be truth, rumor, circumstantial or opinion.

My grandmother, named Osa, believed my father killed Jean.  Jean’s Certificate of Death notes that she had bronchopneumonia for three weeks prior to her death.  My late sister claimed that three nights before our mother died, my parents argued while rain poured over Angeleno Heights.  “Your father pushed Mother out of the house and locked the doors.  Mother walked to Osa’s (who lived about three miles away in Silver Lake) where she collapsed in the driveway.  Gramps rushed Mother to the hospital and she never ever came back home.”

I was 27 months old when my mother died.  Into her grave went any memory I might have had of her voice, her smells,  her touch and her image. She was coarsely removed from my life as were my grandparents and sister when my father, literally ripped me from my grandmother’s arms and plucked me into his1949 Chevy.

The tweed upholstery oozed a musty odor as my father captained his forest green Chevy down Hyperion Avenue in Silver Lake. We crossed a bridge over the wide and cemented Los Angeles River where Glendale Boulevard began, and then drove south on San Fernando Road. He parked the Chevy in front of a modest square and yellow corner house on Kenwood Street in Burbank.

This moment changed my life forever. Like the Berlin Wall, Griffith Park and the Santa Monica Mountains rose between my mother’s family and me. Within the next year I would leave the lush gardens of Los Angeles and land in the arid, and stripped down desert of the Antelope Valley with these new people in my life.

Road trips can raise the ghosts hidden in our memories. Maybe that’s why the day Gilda came home with me I realized that there is much to discover ahead — deeply hidden memories and new horizons to explore in this quest for true living.

Revisiting memories of growing up in the Mojave Desert



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